Social Media in the Workplace: Moving Beyond Fear

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – social media is not a fad, it is a fact of life. The sooner that businesses and organizations come to grips with that fact, the more they will find ways to leverage social media in favor of organizational success. When it comes to social media in the workplace, I think it’s high time for organizations to move well beyond the fear.


The fear is understandable (but not excusable). After all, a 2013 CreditDonkey survey of 1,250 Americans found that 60.9% use social media at work, but only 2% of them are doing so for solely work-related reasons. Bolt Insurance put together an infographic showing that 6 out of every 10 employees are spending an hour or more of their workday visiting social media sites for non-work purposes. It believes that a conservative estimate of the drain on companies in terms of lost dollars is at least $130 billion each year, but could easily be quite a bit more.

With startling statistics like that, it’s easy to see why some companies early on instituted what amounted to complete bans on the use of social media websites. Although most companies have backed off of those initial throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater blanket policies, many still have surprisingly strict controls on social media in place. Statista has noted that 1 out of every 5 workers don’t have access to Facebook during the workday because the companies they work have actually block it entirely.

Besides lost productivity, employers are also concerned about bad publicity and legal risk. Let’s face it, social media sometimes leads certain people to either over-share or in other cases say things about other employees that are less than complimentary. That kind of poor behavior can lead to very costly lawsuits. That’s why even as of just a few years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 43% of companies block social media on company devices, and 31% track employees’ use of social media. Welcome back, Big Brother.

But outright bans or even tightly controlled access is not the way to go in our increasingly open society in the 21st century. Those approaches run the risk of angering younger people who have grown up deeply connected to social media. It can also be taken as a sign of general mistrust and a lack of support.

So how should you handle social media in the workplace? Of course there are always going to be a few bad apples in your bunch, but if employees are performing well, don’t worry about it. If, however, you can trace underperformance back to time spent on social media, then discipline that employee appropriately. Simple enough, right?

Proskauer’s Survey Of Social Media In The Workplace Around The World for 2013-2014 reveals that upwards of 80% of businesses surveyed do have specific policies in place dealing with the appropriate use of social media. However, and here’s the rub in all of this, only about 37.5% have specific training available to employees regarding the use of social media.

VitalSmarts is a corporate training solutions provider that highlights this disconnect when it comes to wanting to have some control over the use of social media in the workplace but don’t provide any training to employees on the topic. In other words, there are plenty of ways that social media can be leveraged to improve performance, but employees aren’t getting the support they need to make it happen. The company’s research reveals that not only do 75% of the companies it studied provide no training whatsoever on how to use social media, at least 48% also do nothing to encourage employees to use to get things done.

What companies really need to do is embrace the promise of social media in a reasonable way. It should come as no surprise that this will involve substantial new efforts in training people about how to make the most of it in ways that minimize potential risks.

January 28, 2015   Updated :March 14, 2015   social media, social media in the workplace   

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